HARARE (Reuters) – Foreign leaders, supporters and ordinary citizens gathered at a national stadium on Saturday to bid farewell to Zimbabwe’s founder Robert Mugabe, after a week of disputes over his burial that have threatened to undermine President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years until he was ousted by his own army in November 2017, died in a Singapore hospital a week ago aged 95.
He will be buried in a mausoleum at the National Heroes Acre shrine in Harare in about 30 days, his nephew said on Friday, contradicting earlier comments that the burial would be on Sunday.
Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former deputy who conspired to topple him, said late on Friday that building the mausoleum would delay the burial of his predecessor.
“Today, let us put aside our differences and come together as we remember the past and look to the future as one proud, independent and free nation,” Mnangagwa wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
Mnangagwa and the ruling ZANU-PF party have wanted Mugabe buried at a national monument to heroes of the liberation war against white minority rule. But some relatives, expressing bitterness at the way former comrades had ousted Mugabe, had pushed for him to be buried in his home village.
African heads of state, including long-ruling leaders from Equatorial Guinea and Congo, started arriving in Zimbabwe on Thursday night for Mugabe’s funeral.
Banners reading “Hamba kahle, Gushungo,” (go well, Gushungo)” in reference to Mugabe’s clan name and “Pioneer of nationalist politics,” were on display at the national stadium ahead of a state funeral.
Cleo Mapuranga, a caterer, told Reuters: “I feel low because Mugabe fought for us. I remember him for land to the blacks, economic freedom and higher education which was non-racial.”
“Now, people are suffering. No one is controlling the prices in the shops. Our finance minister is trying to implement first-world policies which don’t work in third-world countries.”
Mnangagwa’s government has taken steps to cut the budget deficit, remove subsidies on fuel and power and repeal laws curbing public and media freedoms, but those reforms and austerity measures have compounded ordinary people’s hardships.
Mugabe was feted as a champion of racial reconciliation when he came to power in 1980 in one of the last African states to throw off white colonial rule.
By the time he was toppled in 2017 to wild celebrations across the country of 13 million, he was viewed by many at home and abroad as a power-obsessed autocrat who unleashed death squads, rigged elections and ruined the economy to keep control.